Everyone is familiar with those allergy medication commercials we see on TV: the allergy sufferer is standing in a field of flowers, rubbing their watery, red eyes and sneezing up a storm. Yes, "allergy season" can be a tough time for many people. In fact, studies reveal that more than 50 million Americans suffer from allergies. And while some suffer through short-term seasonal allergies, a growing number experience chronic, year-round allergies. The most common symptom of chronic allergies is rhinitis (also called hay fever)- inflammation of the nasal membranes. It is exhibited in an itchy, runny nose, congestion and sneezing. This type of persistent sinus inflammation is one of the most common chronic diseases in the United States, affecting 32 million adults, according to the National Center of Health Statistics.
Other symptoms of non-seasonal allergies include:
- Post-nasal drip
- Watery eyes
- Dark circles around the eyes (allergic "shiners")
- Allergic conjunctivitis (swollen red membranes lining the eyes with crusty eyelids)
- Persistent rubbing of nose - especially in children
Allergic reactions are triggered by either ingesting (eating/drinking), touching or inhaling an allergen. Persistent allergies are caused by inhaling airborne allergens. For most people, the typical things floating around are not a problem - your body collects and eliminates these particles and you are never the wiser. For allergy sufferers, however, the body has an adverse reaction to even the most common things found in the air. And since we spend a significant portion of our day inside our homes, for allergy sufferers it is crucial to examine the air inside the home and identify what may be unknowingly causing chronic problems. The most prevalent triggers and their symptoms include:
- Dust Mites/Dust: Dust mites are readily found in normal house dust and are the most common cause of chronic sneezing and wheezing. In fact, nearly 1 in 2 homes contain a concentration of dust mites high enough to trigger allergies, according to studies conducted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). Symptoms include: sneezing, persistent runny nose, stuffy nose or ears, post-nasal drip. Many people can alleviate these symptoms with the use of products including air purifiers, vacuums, steam cleaners, and allergy bedding.
- Pollen: In early spring when trees and weeds are pollinating, the outside air is heavily saturated with these tiny airborne particles. Even if limiting time outdoors, pollen can sneak into your home causing reactions as well. Symptoms include: runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, nose and throat. Many people can alleviate these symptoms with the use of products including air purifiers and vacuums.
- Pets/Dander: Cats are the most common pet to trigger allergies, although rodents such as gerbils and hamsters can also cause reactions. Air inside homes with these animals contains both dander from their fur and also saliva and mucus floating around. Allergies can take up to two years to develop and symptoms can linger for months after the pet has gone. These symptoms include: runny nose, sneezing, hoarseness, wheezing. Many people can alleviate these symptoms with the use of products including air purifiers and vacuums.
- Mold: Mold can be found in any moist, dark place. While it may appear that the mold or mildew found in the shower and on the shower curtain is sitting securely in place, in fact, mold loves to travel. It floats easily in the air and can cause chronic problems among allergy sufferers. High concentrations of mold can cause severe reactions. Symptoms include: runny nose, coughing, wheezing, sneezing. Many people can alleviate these symptoms with the use of products including dehumidifiers to eliminate the moisture that mold needs to grow.
- Formaldehyde and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC): Formaldehyde is widely used in many building products and household products including: adhesives, air fresheners, drapes, floor polishes, glue, carpet backing, dyes, liquid cleaners, markers, paint and toilet cleaners. While very high levels of exposure to formaldehyde cause physical reactions in everyone, some people have allergic reactions to even small exposures. Symptoms include: burning of the eyes and throat, rashes on skin, tightness of chest, fatigue, headaches. Most people can alleviate these symptoms with the use of a variety of products including specialty odor and chemical air purifiers
- Smoke: Like formaldehyde, smoke exposure in high levels is physically irritating to almost everyone (not to mention dangerous to your health). Among allergy sufferers, it can be irritating even with very small exposure. Symptoms include: coughing, burning and watery eyes, nasal congestion, hoarseness and shortness of breath. Most people can alleviate these symptoms with the use of a variety of products including specialty smoke air purifiers.
These are 6 key sources of airborne allergens in your home. Knowing, understanding, and controlling these sources allows you to not only alleviate your allergies, but also to prevent allergic reactions from the start.
For more information on ways to eliminate these allergy triggers in your home, please read the companion article: Attacking Airborne Allergens in Your Home.
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